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Should Todd McCorkle Still Have a Job at the University of Georgia?

Mulligan Stu of Waggle Room brought the reasons behind Todd McCorkle's seemingly sudden resignation to our attention through a posting and a diary.

Mulligan Stu has continued to follow the story, picking up on a reader comment that linked to Golfweek's follow-up article and noting that the 44-year-old McCorkle coached his 29-year-old wife, Jenna Daniels, at Arizona while she was a college student and he was married to someone else.

While no official investigation of McCorkle's and Daniels's relationship was ever conducted and it has never been confirmed whether their romantic involvement began before his divorce, a former Georgia golfer and current L.P.G.A. player states, "Obviously, it was talked about." Daniels herself felt moved to issue the following statement upon the subject of her relationship with her husband:

I would like to address some of the recent media reports. Although I would like to keep our relationship private, I resent the questions about the integrity of my relationship with Todd and I am disappointed in the allegations against his integrity as a coach. He is one of the premier coaches in the country and he has been a positive influence in the lives of the golfers that he has coached. Todd is a loving and kind husband who has an incredible passion to coach the game of golf. I love my husband and I will stand by him and continue to give him all the support he needs as we face this together. I look forward to getting back out on the course to play the game I love.

This expression of resentment appears to stop somewhat short of issuing an outright denial. In light of these latest allegations concerning the former coach's history, Mulligan Stu offers the following observation:
After all of this, it's amazing to consider that while McCorkle resigned from his position as coach of the women's golf team, the university is still saying he can remain with the school in a different position.

Mulligan Stu raises a point worth discussing. According to published reports, McCorkle was notified in Steve Shewmaker's May 4 memorandum that he had violated the University's non-discrimination and anti-harassment policy by "creating a hostile and offensive environment," as a consequence of which he would be suspended without pay for one month. The University of Georgia's Office of Legal Affairs has issued the following official policy statements concerning sexual harassment:
Pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, "sexual harassment" is defined as:

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, when:

  1. Submission to such conduct is made either implicitly or explicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment or status in a course, program or activity;
  2. Submission or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment or educational decisions affecting such individual; or
  3. Such conduct has the purpose or effect of interfering with the individual's work or educational performance; of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working and/or learning environment; or of interfering with one's ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program or activity.
Examples of sexual harassment may include, but are not limited to the following:
  1. Physical Assault.
  2. Direct or implied threats that submission to sexual advances will be a condition of employment, work status, compensation, promotion, grades, or letters of recommendation.
  3. Sexual advances, physical or implied, or direct propositions of a sexual nature. This activity may include inappropriate/unnecessary touching or rubbing against another, sexually suggestive or degrading jokes or comments, remarks of a sexual nature about one's clothing and/or body, preferential treatment in exchange for sexual activity, and the inappropriate display of sexually explicit pictures, text, printed materials, or objects that do not serve an academic purpose.
  4. A pattern of conduct, which can be subtle in nature, that has sexual overtones and is intended to create or has the effect of creating discomfort and/or that humiliates another.
  5. Remarks speculating about a person's sexual activities or sexual history, or remarks about one's own sexual activities or sexual history that do not serve a medical or academic purpose.
Sexual harassment can occur regardless of the relationship, position or respective sex of the parties. Same sex harassment violates this policy as does harassment by a student of a faculty member or a subordinate employee of his/her supervisor.

McCorkle's behavior was inappropriate. Reportedly, he "told sexually oriented jokes in the presence of team members, which included a 16-year-old player," and such physical contacts as back rubs and pats on the behind are "something a 40-ish man should never do to women in their teens, especially those under his supervision." Published reports cite specific instances of behavior apparently matching the descriptions set forth in the third, fourth, and fifth examples provided in the policy, although McCorkle has denied some such allegations.

That having been said, there are differences of degree between particular forms of inappropriate sexual behavior. Nothing in the published reports I have read suggests that McCorkle's behavior violated the first or second of the three portions of the definition of "sexual harassment." Nothing in the published reports I have read suggests that McCorkle's behavior included the first or second of the five examples of sexual harassment listed above.

I do not condone McCorkle's behavior, but these differences are not inconsequential. It does not appear that he made submission to his conduct a condition of his players' continued status on the team, used submission to or rejection of his conduct as a basis for decisions affecting his players, or physically assaulted or threatened his players. What he is alleged to have done was wrong and deserving of sanction, but, because it did not rise to such a level, a punishment falling somewhat short of termination arguably was appropriate.

Accordingly, Shewmaker's memo informed McCorkle (with emphasis added) that "any further conduct on your part that is a violation of this policy should result in immediate additional disciplinary action, up to and including termination of your employment with the university."

Shortly thereafter, allegedly in response to player protests concerning his continued retention as their coach and a threatened boycott of their upcoming tournament, McCorkle stepped down from his post. His resignation was announced publicly on May 7, the Monday following the Friday on which Shewmaker's memo was issued.

Since McCorkle had been told that additional inappropriate behavior could result in his firing, the University would have had a difficult time reversing its field on the next business day by severing all ties with the disgraced coach. As a practical matter, you can't say to an employee, "You'll be fired if you do this again" on Friday, then turn right around and tell him on Monday, "I know you didn't do it again, but I'm firing you, anyway."

In a society as litigious as ours, such an action almost certainly would invite a lawsuit. The fact that McCorkle was accused of violating the third portion, but not either the first or the second portions, of the definition of the University's sexual harassment policy doubtless would have been relied upon as a basis for claiming that termination was excessive. Even Art Leon, whose daughter is a Georgia golfer and who claims credit for lodging the complaints about McCorkle that led to the investigation, appeared to stop somewhat short of calling for the coach's outright firing, saying (with emphasis added):

He doesn't need to be a coach of women's golf anywhere. He got what he deserved.

Since McCorkle had another year left on his contract, it was pragmatic for the University to move him to another position, where McCorkle will serve out the remainder of his contract and be gone, provided he does not leave voluntarily before his employment term is done. (Under the circumstances, if you were Todd McCorkle, wouldn't you want out of Athens?)

The memory of the Jan Kemp litigation continues to linger in the Classic City and, when even a case seemingly as clear-cut as the Jim Harrick termination produced legal action, it is understandable why the University is a bit gun-shy about the possibility of subjecting itself to another court battle.

By moving McCorkle to a position outside of coaching (one which, presumably, limits the amount and character of his interaction with female students), the University satisfied the players and parents who found his retention as the head of the women's golf program intolerable without levying a harsher sanction that might lead to legal action claiming that McCorkle's termination was arbitrary and excessive.

That, though, merely means the University's course of action was prudent and reasonable. As a regular reader and commenter pointed out, however, the administration should not hold itself "only to the standard of what is legally permissible," but to that of "what is right and honorable and good." Obviously, I am relying on second-hand news reports rather than first-hand information, but the results of the investigation appear fairly straightforward.

At the end of the day, I tend to agree with Mulligan Stu. As a lawyer, I recognize that the University's handling of this incident has been measured and responsible. Nevertheless, as a citizen of Georgia and an alumnus of the University, I recognize that there are occasions on which the third principle set forth in Georgia's state motto (moderation) is incompatible with the first (wisdom) and second (justice) principles enunciated therein.

There are times when there is little virtue to a proportional response. This is one of those times. Todd McCorkle shouldn't simply be moved from one box in the organizational flow chart to another. In light of the University's anti-harassment policy and the length of time during which the investigation alleges that he was in violation of it, Todd McCorkle shouldn't have a job at the University of Georgia, period.

Go 'Dawgs!